Chief Illiniwek’s Revenge?
Evidently the publicity that surrounded the removal of team mascot Chief Illiniwek five years ago only whetted the University of Illinois’ appetite for more controversy.
“Edgar Heap of Bird’s Beyond the Chief, a public art exhibit I curated on the University of Illinois, Urbana, campus from February 2009 to September 2010 provides a modern example of an aesthetic rendering of Native lives through text,” Robert Warrior writes in Profession, a journal published by the Modern Language Association of America (MLAA). “The exhibit featured twelve 36” x 18” aluminum panels fabricated in the style of road signs.”
“The panels were mounted on aluminum poles in front of the building that houses the American Indian Studies Program I direct and other buildings on our street that house African American Studies, Asian American Studies, and cultural centers for Native American, Asian American, African American, and Latina and Latino students.”
Why? “Heap of Birds has exhibited panels in this series, which he calls Native Hosts, in numerous places across North America, including Battery Park in Manhattan, British Columbia, Michigan State University, and the University of Oklahoma, where he teaches,” Warrior explains. “He refers to the exhibits in the series, all of which name a contemporary local audience written in reverse, use the line ‘today your host is,’ and name Native groups whose homelands the exhibits are in, as memorials to the local Indigenous histories of the continent.”
“Heap of Birds acknowledged that ‘beyond the chief’ refers in part to the university’s retired sports mascot, subject of a long and bitter history of protest and publicity, but he also stressed many other levels of deeper meaning he hopes the exhibit invokes and provokes.”
Unfortunately, for some students, the exhibit may have been too provocative. “In mid-March and on five subsequent occasions, the exhibit was damaged intentionally, indeed violently, with almost all the panels at some point being bent or buckled and one panel being written on with Magic Marker: ‘Uh oh, I vandalized this!’”
In making the police report, curator and artist valued the panels at $10, 000 apiece.
Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia.
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